We all have our own way of transcending the banality of everyday life. A good book, going to the gym, watching our football teams struggle to reach the heights or avoid the lows. Taking to the sky with a drone is peak escapism, an adrenaline blast that, for a few short minutes, raises the pulse, puts a stupid grin on your face and revives childhood dreams.
With so many jostling for your attention, though, which drone do you choose? Some drones are small and cheap, can be used to terrorise pets and are controlled only with your smartphone. Others have fancy cameras, the range of a light aircraft and can get you in trouble with the law… but how on earth do you choose which one to buy?
Here’s a roundup of the five newest, most exciting drones you can buy, to help you liberate your inner aviator.
£100, 20m range, 8min flight time
For budding pilots looking for a place to start, the Parrot Mambo is perfect. Flyable with only a smartphone and equipped with sensors that keep it locked in the air like some malevolent, plastic hummingbird, it’s incredibly easy to fly. And, once you’ve mastered its touchscreen-based flight controls, there’s more fun to be had with a pair of plug-in expansion modules: a grabber to pick up and drop off small items and a cannon that pings small green pellets around the living room. A series of preprogrammed aerial tumbles send it spinning in the air like Tom Daley and you can even let it take off from the palm of your hand. Don’t forget to buy spare batteries, though – its eight-minute flight time goes by in a flash.
Verdict: An expert in aerial gymnastics
£120, 60m range (with control pad), 8min 30secs flight time
Is it a plane? Is it a quadcopter? In fact, the Parrot Swing is a bit of both, capable of vertical take-off and hovering, then, at the swipe of a finger, tilting on its side and shooting off at great speed (up to 18.64mph says Parrot). Supplied with a two-stick control pad designed to dock with your smartphone, piloting the Swing is a rush.
In “plane mode”, it hugs the ground, banking left and right between trees, leaving chasing dogs and confused children trailing in its wake. Hit the stop button and it screams to a halt, hovering like a miniature jump-jet, ready for neat, precise manoeuvres and landings. Is this the most fun you can have with your smartphone? It has to come close.
Verdict: Thrilling airborne fun
£999, 4K camera, 27min flight time
It might look like a misshapen camcorder, but unfold the Mavic Pro’s arms and, like a praying mantis preparing for the kill, this nondescript grey lump becomes a full-on attack drone. Even its remote control is a masterwork of technological origami, articulated limbs folding out from its underside to embrace and connect to your smartphone to provide a bird’s-eye view from the stabilised 4K camera in its nose.
Despite its size, the Mavic Pro is as brainy as its larger cousin, the Phantom 4. It’s packed with sensors, cameras and clever software, all aimed at keeping you in the sky and avoiding that lurch in the stomach that accompanies crashing an expensive drone. It’s so easy to fly it’s miraculous and with a top speed of 40mph you’re going to need all the control you can get.
Verdict: A pocket-size flying miracle
£1,129, 4K camera, 28min flight time
Drones, like computers and Top Gear presenters on holiday, are prone to crashing and this is why the Phantom 4 is king of consumer camera drones. Incredibly simple to pilot and almost impossible to ditch disastrously, this drone is bristling with sensors and cameras to keep it steady in the air and help it avoid collisions. It’s a little bulky, especially with the bundled flight controller pad taken into account, but with a flight time of 28 minutes per charge, the ability to obediently return home when the juice runs low and a fully stabilised camera, the Phantom 4 has everything you need to produce the kind of smooth 4K footage Warren Millerwould be proud of. It will even follow you home if you ask it, wagging its rotors faithfully as it goes.
Verdict: A cameraman’s flying best friend
£765, 4k camera, 25min flight time
Those who can’t afford to stretch the wallet to the Rolls-Royce DJI models often turn their attention to the dark and dingy corners of eBay, but there are cleaner-cut alternatives that almost match it for capabilities. Around the same size as a Christmas turkey – but considerably more dangerous and still capable of flight – the Ghost Drone 2.0 VR is controlled solely from the screen of your smartphone or tablet and the aerial view from its onboard 4K camera can be experienced via VR goggles included in the box. The video quality the camera produces is nothing short of stunning and it’s a doddle to get to grips with, but the Ghost Drone’s controls lack the precision of a dedicated control pad, so it isn’t as responsive or fun to fly.
Verdict: Easy to fly, hard to love